Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Ugadi

Dear Foodies,

Nandana Nama Samvatsara Ugadi Subhakankshalu
Ugadi pachadi - jaggery, tamarind, salt, chilli powder, green mango/tart green apple, neem flowers/ground  fenugreek (methi) seeds
Wish all of you a Happy Ugadi | Gudi Padwa or Happy Friday!

No festivity is complete without a pulihara - Nimmakaya/Lemon Pulihara, Dhadhojanam & Potato Bajji's

Sweet Treats to consider - Bobabtlu/Poli;  Paal Payasam ; Pongal ; Kalakhand

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring is here! | Flower Fields

Dear foodies,

-Carlsbad Flower Fields

I wish I could sit sleep here all day...

Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Vegetable & Quinoa Cakes | Guest post for Anu @ Truth Personified

Dear Foodies,

The last few weeks have been overcast and the temperatures have been lower than usual. Cloudy skies and rain conjure up the need to wrap your hands around a warm cup of tea and crispy, crunchy snack to go with it.  I've been on a quinoa cooking spree lately and trying to use it in as many recipes as possible. This recipe is a result of one such attempt that turned out to be most delightful of them all.

Quinoa (keen-wah) though often grouped into the 'whole-grain' club, is really a seed of plant closely related to beets and spinach. The ancient Incan's considered it scared and gave it the name Quinoa which meant 'mother grain'. I guess the confusion of seed vs grain started early :) In recent times, this South American crop has gained popularity due to its nutritional value. Its a rich source of protein, essential amino acids and contains more fiber, calcium, phosphorous, iron and magnesium compared to wheat, corn or barley. Being naturally gluten-free makes it easy to digest and in general a better choice compared to other cereal grains.

Having been around for such a long time proves that these seeds have learnt to survive. They have a bitter outer coating which keeps birds away from them in the fields but when it comes to cooking with it, that coating needs to come off. Most quinoa that we get in the stores now is processed to take away this bitterness but it still needs a good wash under multiple changes of water (as you would with rice).

 The cooking process is very similar to rice as well, but I like to toast the seeds first to enhance their nutty flavor. So before rinsing, toast them in a dry pan for a few minutes until you hear them 'pop', and then wash under multiple changes of water. While cooking them I use less water that I would with rice, I've had success with 1:1.25 of quinoa to water and that keeps the seeds separate & fluffy.

Quinoa is pretty versatile but it takes some getting used too in terms of flavor, specially if you are a rice lover like me. It has a nutty, slightly bitter and mildly crunchy texture, which now is what I like about it. I try to treat it like rice and substitute it in recipes for tomato rice, mixed veg pulao, chinese/thai fried rice, sambar rice and even pulihora/tamarind rice rice. I was cooking some quinoa for lunch one cloudy, rainy day and decided to make mini cakes with them instead. Chopped fresh fennel bulbs, onions, ginger, garlic and carrots went into it along with some spices. To prevent the mixture from getting too moist I used lemon zest instead of juice. For a binding agent, I did not have bread or breadcrumbs at home and remembered that I loved the nutty toasted besan/chickpeas flour in these corn cakes. Finally, along with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and roasted peanuts the cutlet came together beautifully!

Around this point is when I would jump to the recipe, but this post is special since its headed to Anu for her blog. Many of you might already know Anu from her enthusiastic comments and stories that she shares. She's the author of the blog Truth Personified and there could not have been a more perfectly suited name. Her genuineness and curiosity is what makes her blog a pleasure to read.  I'm sure once you read the stories & recipes she shares, you will be persuaded to stay on. I knew Anu way before either of us blogged, we went to the same high school and later the same undergrad college as well. But we were in different batches and never really got to spend time together. It was again through her comments on my blog that we got in touch again. I was thrilled when she asked me to guest post but the excitement soon turned into major procrastination and I'm glad that she still held on to her invite :D So as a first step, I'm sending over a recipe to her space and hope that eventually we'll get to meet in person too!

Please head over to Truth Personified for the recipe - Vegetable & Quinoa Cakes

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Baingan ka Bartha - Smoky & Spicy Eggplant Mash

Dear Foodies,

Here is another recipe featuring the King of vegetables and with that it makes its second appearance on this blog (here is the first!). Over the last two years I've slowly but steadily tried to get past my dislike for this veggie by trying various recipes with it. The latest favorite is this spicy, smoky version that is almost mandatory on most Indian restaurant menus. It can be thought if as a spicier cousin of the Lebanese Baba Ghanouj and I definitely like this version better.

Eggplant/Brinjal is unique among other vegetables because it can handle a lot of spices and still hold its own.  Baingan Bartha translates to mashed eggplant and for this dish the larger eggplants are ideal since they have more flesh than seeds. Traditionally, the eggplant is grilled over charcoal which imparts the signature smoky flavor to this dish. An effective alternative is charring the eggplant over a gas flame or using the broil setting in your oven to re-create the intense heat of the coals. Once cooled,  peel the burnt skin to reveal the soft flesh inside which should be almost cooked. Coarsely mashed along with sauteed ginger (lots of it), garlic, onions, tomatoes and lots of cilantro in the end completes the dish. I love the fresh flavor of cilantro is this and so go a step further and add finely chopped stalks of cilantro while sauteing the onions & tomatoes.

A gas stove currently exists only in my dream kitchen & I'm stuck with an electric coil for now. I've never tried charring an eggplant direclty on the electric coil for fear of creating a mess. So I stick the eggplant into a 400°F oven, cut side down, for about 15-20 mins to allow the insides to cook and then place it under the broiler for 8-10 mins in the end while constantly hovering over it. Once the skin begins to shrivel and get all wrinkly pull it out and place the eggplant in a sealed dish. This allows steam to build up within that lifts the skin off, doing half the work for you. If you have a gas stove, then carefully hold the eggplant over medium flame for 3-4 mins on each side until the skin is uniformly charred all around. Picking an eggplant with a firm stem would be really helpful, if not, stick a skewer/chopstick through it.

Sweet, fresh peas are the perfect counterpoint to all the spices in the bartha. With spring making head way, the farmer's market stalls are brimming with vibrant green produce. All of last month I snacked on winter citrus fruit samples while strolling around the market but last week they were offering tender sugar snap peas to snack on! True to their name they were sweet as sugar. After a couple of samples I ended up buying a bag of them and along with it came the fresh pea pods as well.

Baingan ka Bartha
Prep time: 30mins
Cook time: 30mins
Servings: 3-4 (side dish)
  • 1 - Eggplant/Aubergine/Brinjal, medium size
  • 3/4 cup - Onion, finely diced
  • 1 - Tomato, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup - Sweet peas, fresh or frozen
  • 2 tsp - Ginger, minced  (reduce for mildly spicy version)
  • 1 tsp - Garlic, minced
  • 2 - Green Chillies, minced (reduce if you like it mildly spicy)
  • 1 Tbsp - Cilantro stalks, finely diced
  • 1 tsp - Cumin seeds (or use freshly ground powder)
  • 1 tsp - Coriander seeds  (or use freshly ground powder)
  • 1/8 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbsp - Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro leaves & julienned ginger for garnish
  1. If using an oven, place one rack close to the broiler with engouh room to slide the eggplants, and one in the middle of the oven. Pre-heat to 400°F. 
  2. Preparing the Eggplant: Wash and dry the eggplant, slice in half and coat the skin with a little bit of oil (or use an oil spray). Place cut side down on an greased foil sheet or non-stick mat and cook for 15-20 mins in the middle rack until it begins to soften. Now change to broiler setting and move the eggplants to the upper rack. Continue to cook for 8-10 more mins until the skin shrivels but constantly monitor them as each oven's temperature is different. Once they are done, move them to a deep bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap for 10-15mins. When cool to handle peel and discard the outer skin, a few bits and pieces of it is still fine. Coarsely shop and reserve the flesh and any juices collected at the bottom of the bowl.
  3. While the eggplants are in the oven, chop and mince rest of ingredients. In a pestle and mortar lightly crush cumin and coriander seeds.
  4. Heat oil in the wide pan (I use a cast iron skillet) and add crushed cumin & coriander seeds. As they turn fragrant add ginger, garlic and chillies (Have your exhaust fan on at this stage as these ingredients could be very pungent) and cook for about 20-30 seconds before adding onions, a pinch of turmeric and salt.
  5. The onions don't have to gain color or soften completely, add tomatoes next and cook until they loose texture and become mushy. 
  6. Add eggplant, chopped cilantro stalks & salt next. Without breaking up the eggplant chunks to much mix all the ingredients and cook for a few more minutes allowing the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust for seasoning and add fresh peas towards the last 5 mins of cooking time.
  7. Serve warm, garnished with cilantro, fresh ginger julienne's and lemon wedges. It goes really well with Indian breads like naan/paratha/phulkas/rotis or with rice dishes.
Notes: Be very watchful when the eggplant is placed under the broiler as it can get out of hand very quickly. When chopping the eggplant keep them chunky as this isn't supposed to be a fine mash.
- I love the heat of ginger, chillies and fresh cilantro in this dish and so use more of them, but adjust quantities to suit your tastes. I use more ginger than garlic but you could surely swap quantities based on your preference.
- I like the flavor of crushed coriander seeds, but if you like a more subtle flavor use coriander powder instead, adding it along with the tomatoes.

The charred flavor of the eggplant, intense combination of ginger, garlic and chillies make it nothing but a show stopper. This is one eggplant dish that I now cannot resist. The flavors are most intense right off the stove but it mellows down a bit as it sits. Despite the use of all these strong elements they come together beautifully and each flavor hits your palate differently. Biting into the juicy, fresh peas brings respite from the spice and just keeps you going for more. If you only have only smaller eggplants (Indian/Thai eggplants) but want to make this, no worries, go ahead and cook them the same way. I've done it and the bartha was still amazing. You'll have as much seeds as eggplant flesh in the dish but the flavor will still be great.
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